(You Have Been Granted) Permission to Tell

sincere3Last night I read yet another list of things writers should consider about the writing process. This particular list comes via Walter Benjamin, a Twentieth Century philosopher of German and Jewish descent. Benjamin’s advice is excellent and, of the 13 things he lists, one in particular stands out to me because I had the very same thought two days ago. List item 11 states: “Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.” I identify the following two words as key in this valuable recommendation.

Familiar – Familiarity is an invisible lining over every aspect of our lives. We cannot see it most times, rarely think about it, and usually only reflect on it when it’s absent. For the writer striving to achieve raw and unedited authenticity, familiarity is a barrier to risk. Psychologically, the four walls of our sacred space are counterintuitive to the terrifying necessity of truth. This is one reason why it’s important to travel. As we experience unusual things over the course of our trip we break the barrier of familiarity, and our senses come alive in that child-like way so important to artistic awareness.

Courage – Permission to tell is the mantra of every writer. When we talk about “telling” in writing, we are talking about the unedited, unapologetic, painful truth about people and events in our stories. This honesty is the hardest concept to grasp, because it goes against the nature of everything we’ve been told about manners. We don’t often tell the truth in the day-to-day because it’s uncomfortable. People can be offended. The truth hurts. More than one writer has acknowledged the dichotomy between mannered living in the real world and the brutal conduct they impose in the writing world. There is no room for manners in writing. The job of the writer is to get the real story onto the page without reservation, and that takes courage.

In my quest for an authentic voice I realized that if I want to reach my goal I need to write in an environment where I feel like I’m getting away with something. After all it’s guilt that keeps me from telling in the first place, so it makes sense to me that if I am going to cross that line I need to do it in a place that doesn’t remind me a whole lot of my comfortable, happy life. Mr. Benjamin seems to agree. “You will not find the necessary courage there.” The personal and the creative are never entirely separate. There’s no way they can be. This is why it’s so terrifying to write truthfully. In public spaces, where strangers surround me, I can honestly reflect on my characters, and hone in on what is real about them and authentic about the story.

In the larger world I feel bold, and I am courageous and alive in ways that the sedation of home denies me.


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